Out This Week is a weekly column intended to provide reviews of nearly every new indie release. Reviews are written by Indiewire critic Eric Kohn and other contributors where noted.
The sweaty, drug-fueled underbelly of SoCal gets a nice awkward kiss from Nick Parada's "Bro'." While Johnny's (Will Chavez) our introductory blank slate character to the drugs and shots behind the world of Freestyle BMX, it's Jesse (Beau Manley) that sucks us in with such a hangdog attitude that he makes Droopy the Dog seem over-active. "Bro'" has been touted as the first feature film about Fresstyle MotoX riders. Perhaps, but the tone swings from a stoner mentality that harkens back to "Spun" and then shifts to a modern take on "Reefer Madness" for the evils (loose underage women! dealing! Danny Trejo!) that drugs bring. Like any good trip, "Bro'" eases you in before the good grove gives way to a too-quick wrap-up of the last 83 minutes. Criticwire grade: B [John Lichman]
Opens Friday in Orange, California. Also available on VOD. Watch the trailer below:
"The Invisible War"
Are you ready for this? Being raped is all part of the job for women in the armed forces. Or so a federal court has ruled in dismissing a class-action suit filed by women who claimed they were sexually assaulted while serving in the military. That's just one of the shocking and distressing revelations in Kirby Dick's eye-opening documentary.
Dick ("This Film Is Not Yet Rated") provides statistics that might sicken viewers. A woman in a combat zone is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy action, and 20 per cent of all women on active duty are sexually violated. Even more infuriating, most of the incidents are covered up by military authorities.
Dick puts a human face on the cold statistics by interviewing victims. One is Kori Cioca, who's face was severly damaged when she was raped by a commanding officer while she was in the Coast Guard. Not only did he escape any serious punishment, but Cioca is unable to get the Veterans Administration to approve facial surgery she urgently need.
Fortunately, Dick leaves viewers with a glimmer of hope. In April, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was shown "The Invisible War'' and ordered a new chain of command in the investigation of sex crimes in the military. Criticwire grade: A [V.A. Musetto]
Opens Friday in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Boston.
In 2010, Indian-American filmmaker Virkam Gandhi went to Phoenix and invented a spiritual workshop from scratch. That's the premise of "Kumaré," a documentary that Gandhi assembled out of his experience, in which he created a fake spiritual guru, replete with heavy accent, far-out proclamations, and a tiny legion of followers. Gandhi intended to prove a point, play a prank, or maybe some unseemly combination of both. The story is constructed, somewhat strangely, as a mixture of satire and rhetoric. The actual feat outdoes the record that it happened. Although initially comic in tone, "Kumaré" eventually moves away from that angle and aims for a more introspective portrait of spiritual growth. Gandhi claims his intentions are sincere, hoping to prove that everyone has the capacity to discover their "inner guru" rather than taking guidance from a superior.
Ghandi makes it clear that he actually came to appreciate the earnestness behind a mass desire to accept spiritual concepts for the sake of personal satisfaction. However, that doesn't alter the nature of his prank, which he describes as "the biggest lie I've ever told and the greatest truth I've ever experienced." He just makes it hard to tell where the lie ends and the truth begins. Criticwire grade: B+ [Eric Kohn]
Now playing at the IFC Center in New York with more cities planned in the coming weeks. Released by Kino Lorber. Watch the trailer below:
"The Last Ride"
This speculative road trip follows the last days of Hank Williams, which were spent in a powder blue Cadillac convertible. The 1952 El Dorado represents Williams’ success as a songwriter and country singer, but it also serves as his refuge from an increasingly chaotic life. Director Harry Thomason, a television veteran making his feature film debut, finds the raucous and contemplative Williams (Henry Thomas) fully at home in the back seat, alternately taunting and engaging driver Silas Combs (Jesse James), a guileless Montgomery, Alabama mechanic hired to chauffeur him to gigs in West Virginia and Ohio. The former child actors (“E.T.” and “As Good as It Gets,” respectively) fully embody these hardscrabble young men adrift in a rural America seized by cold. Thomas doesn’t possess Williams’ gaunt angularity, but he’s a reckless charmer, using a white Stetson to express what his stiff, pain-wracked body can’t. In “The Last Ride,” he’s just another guy on the lost highway. Criticwire grade: B- [Serena Donadoni]
Opens June 22 in New York and June 29 in Los Angeles. Released by Category One. Watch the trailer below:
"Nate and Margaret"
It's a shame when a film makes you ponder not how it was made, but why. Such is the case with the 21st century Harold and Maude simulation, Margaret and Nate. Perhaps the story of a film student is autobiographical, and this was a class assignment, but more likely it was supposed that Harold and Maude could be improved by simplifying the emotional wallop of a young boy who falls in love with an old woman by transposing Harold's ambiguous sexuality in the original into a character who is simply gay. Lanky, naive Nate simpers appreciatively as his coffee mug-collecting, 52-year-old spinster pet, Margaret, played by Natalie West as if it was a SNL reject sketch. Criticwire grade: D- [Miriam Bale]
Opens Friday at the reRun Gastropub in Brooklyn. Watch the trailer below:
"To Rome With Love"
Funny in fragments, Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love" is crammed with enough unrelated incidents to fill one of his short-story collections and has the same lack of cohesion. The director's latest European excursion eagerly satirizes a touristic point of view while simultaneously indulging it by romanticizing the titular scene. As usual from Allen, the first-rate cast -- a much larger collection of international faces than his last few ventures -- relishes the opportunity to dig into Allen's frantic one-liners and self-deprecating wit. But even Allen himself, appearing in front of the camera for his first role since 2005's "Scoop," looks a little lost in the mess.
Allen inadvertently opens "To Rome With Love" by establishing a metaphor for its flaws: A loopy traffic cop, initially the movie's narrator, inadvertently causes an accident and then addresses the audience about the swirling mini-narratives about to unfold. Like the cars, the ensuing plot veers wildly from one place to the next, slamming a series of events together without even attempting to make them flow. Familiar faces playing dopey Americans abroad speedy by: Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page…and then Allen stuff in some local figures as well, including Roberto Benigni. Allen's own starring bit includes an enjoyable sequence featuring a man singing opera in a shower before live audiences. But it's a mere fleeing glimpse of inspired storytelling. This might not matter much if more individual scenes carried enough of Allen's wit to render the lack of fluidity irrelevant, but the material carries the treacly, half-baked feeling of Allen on autopilot. Criticwire grade: C [Eric Kohn]
Opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles. Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"
"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" valiantly tries to inject a familiar premise with renewed emotional discernment and instead flails about in search of it. The directorial debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria ("Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist"), "Seeking a Friend" follows a pair of would-be lovers on a meandering road trip that takes place in the weeks leading up to the destruction of the Earth, a tried-and-true set-up that provides a simple backdrop for exploring lost souls in search of meaning in their final days. While smartly observant in individual moments, however, Scafaria's thinly conceived story fails to deepen its scenario beyond the basic allegorical possibilities of the oncoming apocalypse.
Cast in the same disaffected everyman role he embodies to a fault every time out, Steve Carrell plays somber insurance salesman Dodge, whose wife promptly abandons him upon news of Earth's imminent demise. He meets equally distant neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) and decides to travel with her to find his old high school sweetheart and potentially help her find a way home to England. With 21 days to go before the cataclysmic event, "Seeking a Friend" launches Dodge and Penny's titular mission through a series of title cards that lead up to the final moments. That recurring device creates the perception of a gradual build to an expected revelatory payoff, but the movie never rises to the challenge. In the process of relying alternately on poetic restraint and gags, the film's emotional grounding slowly dissipates. Criticwire grade: B- [Eric Kohn]
Originally reviewed June 18. Opens in several cities on Friday. Released by Focus Features. Watch the trailer below:
A gentle (read: sleepy) Irish character study, set in 1956, "Stella Days" has Father Daniel Barry (Martin Sheen) stuck in the village of Tipperary when his plans to return to Rome are thwarted. Barry is an intellectual, seemingly bored with his simple parishioners and their hesitation to move toward modernity. Viewers will be bored too by "Stella Days," which s-l-o-w-l-y lumbers to its Big Dramatic Moments in which Father Daniel admits his sins of pride. These few meaty, moving scenes may serve to explain why Sheen took part in this mediocre but handsomely made film. Most of "Stella Days" depicts Daniel's budding friendship with Tim (Trystan Gravelle) a newly hired teacher, and their efforts to get a cinema up and running. While the authorities are worried about filth and immorality on screen, "Stella Days" really only comes alive when Jimmy (Garrett Lombard) -- a drunk, perennially absent father -- turns up, drops a few F-bombs, and draws someone’s blood. Criticwire grade: C [Gary M. Kramer]
Opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles. Released by Tribeca Film. Watch the trailer below:
"The Woman in the Fifth"
Stalled one-time novelist Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) follows his estranged French ex-wife to Paris, winding up in Sezer's (Samir Guesmi) seedy boarding house. Strapped for cash and without a work permit, Ricks agrees to serve as Sezer's night guard at a mysterious off-site location, locking himself into a vault and refusing to ask questions about any blood on the floor. Though his ex has a restraining order, Tom makes fleeting contact with his daughter and takes up with mysterious older widow Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas), who offers sexual gratification set to classical music in upper-class comfort. When, after an hour, bad things predictably happen, their exact nature is left coyly ambiguous. Frowningly reciting dialogue in bad French, Hawke renounces charisma. Pawlik Pawlikowski's film obviously wants its ambiguities to stir audiences to impassioned debate about the nature of creation and mental perception, but —- sensitive location shooting of off-the-books Paris aside —- the elisions and attenuated non-suspense frustrate already-eroded patience. Criticwire grade: C [Vadim Rizov]
Originally reviewed June 14, 2012. Expands on Friday to several cities. Released by ATO Pictures. Watch the trailer below: